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Intelligence: The Week Ahead
Kim Jong-il's Coming Out Party; Estrada's Last Stand?; Riding the Market Roller Coaster
BY DORINDA ELLIOTT

October 23, 2000
Web posted at 5:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 5:30 a.m. EDT


An American in Pyongyang
It wasn't long ago that U.S. President Bill Clinton called North Korea's border with the South the "scariest place on earth." But U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the first U.S. Cabinet member to visit the Stalinist state, may be hoping to pave the way for a visit by Clinton before the end of his term. During two days of meetings with top-level North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong-il, Albright will be trying to get assurances that the country, labeled a "terrorist state," will take steps toward shutting down its missile program and exports to Washington's enemies. The meetings will be the second time in recent months that the reclusive Kim, known at home as Dear Leader, will emerge from the secrecy of his isolated country to face the international media. In June, Kim and his counterpart in Seoul, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, held historic talks in Pyongyang that raised hopes that the 50-year old conflict dividing the Korean peninsula will soon come to an end.

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This week's visit by Albright underscores the diplomatic maneuvering in recent months as the region's powers struggle over who will control the destiny of the two Koreas. The Americans began a quiet diplomatic initiative last year, led by former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who concluded following an exploratory trip to Pyongyang that it was time to try to reach out to the North. In more recent months, officials from Beijing have made trips to Pyongyang, too, in hope of maintaining influence with their long-time friends in the North. The Russians also want to be players. At the recent summit meeting in Okinawa, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that the North's Kim had suggested that the North Koreans might scale back their missile development plans in exchange for the international community's help in launching North Korean satellites into space.

Also on the agenda this week in Pyongyang: Albright will want to discuss Pyongyang's alleged support of terrorism and possible future steps toward reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula.

So What's 130 Million Pesos?
Philippine President Joseph "Erap" Estrada continues to battle for his political career. The president ran into trouble two weeks ago, when Ilocos Sur Governor Singson, a former drinking buddy, accused him of collecting payoffs from the illegal numbers game jueteng. The charge, which Estrada denies, sparked calls for the president's resignation and a growing opposition movement on the streets of Manila. Another rally is scheduled for Wednesday — this time by moderate forces, including some businessmen, according to organizer Jose "Peping" Cojuangco. In Congress, opposition politicians are gaining support for their bid to pass a law allowing for a snap election. Estrada has declared that he welcomes a snap election, provided it is not unconstitutional.

At the same time, in the Senate, a bank branch manager has testified that 130 million pesos (about $3 million) were withdrawn, corroborating the charge made by Governor Luis Chavit that the money was taken by Estrada as his cut of the tobacco tax money intended for Ilocos Sur. There is no proof, however, that Estrada ever touched the money. The 130 million pesos were withdrawn by three separate people. The Senate so far hasn't established whether these three withdrawals were linked to Estrada or whether the amounts, after being withdrawn, were credited to an account for the benefit of the president. No wonder the peso and the stock market remain weak.

Survival in a Crazy Market
Asian traders and investors are watching the markets this week. Will they continue to spring back, following the U.S.? The better-than-expected earnings at Microsoft and Nokia calmed Nasdaq somewhat, and contributed to a recovery in tech stocks and the broader market last Thursday. Asia followed suit on Friday. Taiwan's market jumped 6.4%, South Korea 6%, Hong Kong 4.3% and Tokyo's Nikkei 2.6%. The prospects this week? The spate of U.S. earnings reports and warnings may be coming to an end, so further shocks from that quarter may be unlikely. Investors are hoping this will be a quiet week for the world's markets, including Asia. Asia's nervous investors are waiting anxiously for signs that stability — and sanity — have returned.

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